Like her more iconic media counterpart the “Lady in Red,” Lobna Allamii came to Taksim Square on May 31 with one thing on her mind: protecting the trees in the central square's unassuming park.
But just minutes into a brisk and brutal police intervention against peaceful demonstrators that day, a now widely published photo was snapped of 34-year-old Allamii -- clad in a pink t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops -- fallen and unconscious on the ground, her eyes open to the blinding sun and blood streaming from her head.
Like so many other demonstrators since the start of broad anti-government protests two weeks ago, she had been hit in the head by a tear gas canister fired by police directly into a crowd of protesters. Now, says her sister Fatin, Allamii remains in critical but stable condition after two risky emergency brain surgeries. She still hasn't regained consciousness.
“Right now she remains on life support, and doctors are trying to keep her from waking up in order to allow her brain to heal,” explained an exhausted-sounding Fatin during a phone interview. “Our family has been waiting for almost two weeks, and we've kept up our resolve, but in this situation we're also worried and hanging on the doctor's every word.”
Just hours after Allamii was taken to the hospital on Friday, she underwent a risky, five-hour brain surgery aimed at stopping internal bleeding and repairing her fractured skull. The next day, a still unstable Allamii was wheeled to the operating room and given a four-hour surgery to repair more bleeding in her brain.
Of Jordanian origin, Allamii studied philosophy at Ankara's Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ) and is a 21-year resident of Turkey. “We grew up in this country; we are essentially Turkish,” says Fatin, who speaks with accentless Turkish and an equally articulate English. “This is her home, and like our whole family, she cares about it. She went to the park not because she had any political affiliation or ideology. She was used the park; she wanted to protect it.”
That Allamii is no window-smashing, car-torching anarchist might seem a surprise to those tuned into much of Turkey's pro-government news media or Prime Minister Recept Tayyip Erdoğan, who has repeatedly called protesters “thugs” and members of terrorist groups. But according to many protesters, doctors and human rights groups, it has been police who have displayed an aggressive and worrying amount of force. In the past two weeks, EMTs and doctors have tallied thousands of injured, while protesters now don construction helmets to protect themselves from plastic bullets and tear gas leveled at them. On Wednesday, 26-year-old protester Ethem Sarısülük passed away in Ankara after remaining on life support for several days. Like Allamii, he is believed to have been hit in the head by a tear gas canister. He was the fifth person to die so far in the protests.
“For our own family, one of the most bitter things is that no officials or members of the police have so far apologized or showed concern for my sister's health,” said Fatin. “We expect better.” Allamii's case is also an example of why police responsible for excessive violence are unlikely to ever be held accountable for their acts. After two weeks of chaos and confusion in the country's largest cities, identifying and punishing specific officers who beat protesters or fired tear gas at dangerous angles seems like a lost cause at best.
“Of course right now, we're just thinking about our sister,” said Fatin. “We hope her condition will stabilize and doctors are optimistic that they'll be able to wake her up in the coming days. We hope she can recover and go back to her regular life before long.”